WolfGANG Session

SPHERE Festival

2022-09-23 20:00 2022-09-23 21:30 60 Canada/Eastern 🎟 NAC: WolfGANG Session


In-person event

Wolfgang invites you to take another walk on the wild side with this Session, featuring stellar NACO musicians in an intimate evening of exciting music about the Earth at Club SAW. Musicians: Desiree Abbey, Cello Paul Casey, viola Karen Donnelly, trumpet Steven Dyer, trombone Joanna G'froerer, flute Chris Lee, tuba Jessica Linnebach, violin David Marks, viola Stephanie Morin, Flute Rachel Mercer, cello Marc-André Riberdy, cello Steven van Gulik, trumpet Mintje van...

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Club SAW,67 Nicholas Street,Ottawa,Canada
Friday, September 23, 2022

≈ 90 minutes · With intermission


Last updated: September 21, 2022

ANNA THORVALDSDÓTTIR Spectra for violin, viola, and cello
BRIAN NABORS Zephyr for two flutes and string quartet
KRISTINE TJØGERSEN Spiracle for brass quintet
SCHAFER String Quartet No. 2, “Waves”

Program Notes

Tonight’s Wolfgang Session, part of this season’s SPHERE Festival, is a walk on the wild side featuring contemporary works inspired by natural phenomena. In each of the four works on this program, composers creatively employ techniques that require the performing musicians to go beyond the traditional ways of playing their instruments. This is the music of nature like you’ve never heard it before!



Spectra for violin, viola, and cello

“One of the most distinctive voices in contemporary music” (NPR), Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdóttir is known for her highly atmospheric and texturally imaginative works. As her biography describes, her music is written as an “ecosystem of sounds”, where materials continuously grow in and out of each other. Much of it is fundamentally inspired by nature and its various qualities, particularly structural ones, like proportion and flow. 

A commission by the NJORD New Nordic Music Biennale in Copenhagen, Thorvaldsdóttir’s string trio Spectra was composed in 2017. It consists of, in her words, “six short movements that are performed in a seamless flow from one movement to the next.” “Atmospheric indications,” which include phrases like “with curiosity”, “with determination”, and “with lyricism and calm”, she notes, “are written in bold italic letters at the start of each movement.”

“My music is written as an ecosystem of materials that are carried from one performer—or performers—to the next throughout the process of the work,” she further explains. In Spectra, these materials include the use of a wide array of extended techniques to create special effects, including producing quarter tones, harmonics, glissandos, tremolos, changes in bow pressure, playing near the bridge of the instrument, and varied types of vibrato. Her guidance for performers of the piece can also apply to listeners’ experience of it: “As you play a phrase, harmony, texture, or a lyrical line, it is being delivered to you, passed on from another performer for you to carry on until it is delivered to another. All materials continuously grow in and out of each other, growing and transforming throughout the process.”


Zephyr for 2 Flutes and String Quartet

I. Lively
II. Reflective
III. Lively

The music of American composer Brian Raphael Nabors has recently been garnering much attention for its eclectic blend of jazz, funk, R & B, and gospel styles, with the modern techniques of contemporary classical music. Nabors credits his “charming southern upbringing” as formative to the core principles that inspire his music, which include spirituality, and reflections on life, nature, and the human condition.

He composed Zephyr in 2020 for the New Downbeat new music ensemble. About the piece, he says:

​The word “zephyr” comes from the Greek language meaning “gentle wind” or “wind from the west.” Although there are many examples of gentle lyricism throughout, it is quite the fiery piece, with many other stark effects of wind and colour making their appearance. As always, I find it most fun to juxtapose the romantic with the barbarous!

Two outer movements marked “Lively” bookend a “Reflective” centre. To create the “stark effects of wind”, Nabors has the two flute players use various extended techniques, for example, air beatboxing—essentially, “talking” into the flute, resulting in a percussive, breathy series of sounds. Another is jet whistles, which are very loud glissandos produced by blowing a high, fast-pressure air stream through the flute. In the first part of the second movement, the string quartet plays slow-moving chords composed of ethereal harmonics, against which the flutes intone “pops” of sound using slap tongue and blow pitchless, steady streams of air through their instruments. As contrast to these “windy” sections in each movement, there are dynamic episodes of counterpoint—between the two flutes and between the flutes and string quartet—that evoke layers of air flow.


Spiracle for brass quintet

The compositional practice of Norwegian composer Kristine Tjøgersen is, according to her biography, “characterized by curiosity, imagination, humour, and precision. Through her work she creates unexpected and absurd auditory situations through playing with tradition, often resulting in a particular strangeness. Her work opens up perceptions of the world as complex, alive, and ever changing and not heading towards a final climax.”

Spiracle for brass quintet was composed in 2017. In the score, Tjøgersen describes the underlying inspiration for the piece:

Spiracles are breathing openings found on the surface of insects, spiders, certain cartilaginous fish such as particular species of sharks, and stingrays. Sharks and rays have a spiracle behind each eye. When the shark is not moving, the spiracle helps the shark to breathe. Spiracles aid fish in breathing even when they are lying on the ocean bottom or when they are buried in the sand. Insects have spiracles, which allow air to move into their tracheal system. Since insects do not have lungs, they use spiracles to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide with the outside air. The blowhole of the whale is also sometimes called a spiracle in older texts. Whales use their blowholes to take in the air and dispel carbon dioxide when they surface.

As if to evoke the sound of spiracles in action, Tjøgersen has the musicians use a myriad of creative playing techniques to generate unusual sounds from their instruments. These include air sounds, air sounds with pronounced letters, air tones with flutter, slap tongue, tongue tremolo to sound like a helicopter, singing and playing at the same time, playing without the mouthpiece, and using the instrument the “wrong way”. Requiring playing of great subtlety and finesse, the piece progresses with essentially alternating sections of pitch-less sounds shaped by clear rhythmic patterns, which are, at times, infused with shifting “wah wah” tones. About a third of the way through, second trumpet and trombone intone a melodic phrase, which Tjøgersen notes is a quote from the song “In Bloom” by Nirvana. Spiracle closes with a reflective series of chords in the trumpets, horn, and tuba, and the trombone responding with singing glissandos.

R. Murray Schafer

String Quartet No. 2, "Waves"

During the late 1960s and 1970s, Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer established an educational and research group called the World Soundscape Project at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University. Borne out of his deep concern about the harmful effects of technological sound on humans, i.e, noise pollution, particularly in urban environments, the project initiated the field of acoustic ecology—the study of the relationship between humans and their environment as mediated through sound. In 1976, Schafer completed his first work to integrate his soundscape research with his creative endeavours as a composer: his second string quartet, “Waves”.

In his program note to the piece, he describes how his analysis of ocean waves on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Canada shaped the composition:

The recurrent pattern of waves is always asymmetrical, but we have noted that the duration from crest to crest usually falls between 6 and 11 seconds. Few ocean waves are of longer or shorter duration than this. It is this wave motion that gives the quartet its rhythm and structure. The listener will hear the dynamic undulations of waves in this piece, and as it develops several types of wave motion are combined. I have sought to give the quartet a liquid quality in which everything is constantly dissolving and flowing into everything else. That is to say, the material of the work is not fixed, but is perpetually changing, and even though certain motivic figures are used repeatedly, they undergo continual dynamic, rhythmic, and tempo variation.

To enhance the fluidity of the music, Schafer allows the musicians some artistic freedom to execute their parts, as indicated by a timeline underneath the score that suggests when the musical motifs are to be played. Overall, the piece might be described as a meditation on the many sounds of water—from calm, soothing burbles to droplet sprays to the surging, pounding waves. In his 1977 landmark book The Tuning of the World in which he summarized his ideas and theories about soundscape, Schafer considered water to be “the fundamental of the original soundscape and the sound which above all gives us the most delight in its myriad transformations.” He noted that “the mind must be slowed to catch these millions of transformations of the water, on sand, on shale, against driftwood, against the seawall.”

Schafer’s work in soundscape also influenced his interest in the spatial distribution of musicians during live performance to create certain effects. Near the quartet’s conclusion, he instructs the first violinist, then second violinist, then violist to get up and slowly leave the stage in different directions “as if in a trance”, taking their murmuring figures into the distance. In the last moments, the cellist is given the optional instruction to pick up a spyglass and, “in a very deliberate and controlled manner”, look to where the other musicians have gone and pan slowly across the audience. After this action, the cellist plays the final chord, and fades out gradually on an E-flat note.


Program notes by Hannah Chan-Hartley, PhD


  • No headshot
    cello Desiree Abbey
  • paul-casey
    viola Paul Casey
  • karen-donnelly
    trumpet Karen Donnelly
  • flute Joanna G’froerer
  • chris-lee-cropped-ks
    tuba Chris Lee
  • violin Jessica Linnebach
  • david-marks-2
    viola David Marks
  • rachel-mercer
    cello Rachel Mercer
  • portrait-marc-andre-1
    cello Marc-André Riberdy
  • trumpet Steven van Gulik
  • mintje-small
    violin Mintje van Lier
  • horn Lawrence Vine
  • No headshot
    trombone Steven Dyer
  • flute Stephanie Morin
  • cattroll-684-x2
    violin Emily Westell